The premise behind "The Carrier," Evan Young's iPhone graphic novel, is fairly basic: a guy wakes up in a dark room with no idea how he got there, who he is, or why a titanium briefcase is shackled to his wrist.
The execution, however, is anything but simple. Existing only through iTunes (for now), the graphic novel mixes traditional comic book storytelling with various real-world iPhone features, including geolocation, email and messaging.
"My hope is that people approach 'The Carrier' in a couple of different ways: both as a comic book, on one hand, but also as a new type of graphic novel storytelling that can only be experienced using today's mobile, digital devices - in this case, the iPhone or the iPod Touch," Young told CBR News. "First and foremost, 'The Carrier' is a comic book with a hook: a man wakes up in a strange city with a briefcase chained to his wrist, and he doesn't know how the case got there or what's inside of it."
While the iPhone application, a $5.99 download from iTunes, can certainly be enjoyed as a straightforward graphic novel, turning on the extra features adds to the story. "You can switch your settings for the app to enable push messages. They tie in with the story and let you know when new chapters are available, in real-time," Young said. "You can give 'The Carrier' app your email address, and you'll receive a ton of interesting emails as the story unfolds, all also adding some extra dimensions to the comic. These emails help tie where you are in real life with the action that happens in the story, deepening the entire experience."
The entire "experience" is told in real time for 35 chapters over the course of 10 days. When action happens in the story, it is revealed at that time in real life, with each chapter becoming available only as events unfold. "So really, it's a graphic novel on one hand; on the other hand, it's one of the first examples out there of what comic books can be if creators decide to really dig into the new mobile tech available to us," Young said.
To create the application, Young was assisted by his brother, Geoffrey, who is also his partner at StopWatch Media. "All the developing was handled by Geoffrey. I can't even begin to take credit for what Geoff has done, and many of the interesting ways that 'The Carrier' ties in the iPhone's geolocation - push messaging, emails and more - originated with him," Young said.
He also credited Geoffrey with developing the real-time function that drives the way the story unfolds. "It may be easy to overlook, but delivering a fictional story in real-time for five people - anywhere in the world, in any time zone, or even in some cases shuttling between time zones - starting on Oct. 1, then three people starting Oct. 5, then four more people starting Oct. 10, and so on, is no small task," Young said. "This programming is also something we don't think anyone else has tried to do, and we're hoping has some broader applicability to digital fiction in general."
As for the story itself, Young said he got the idea for it shortly after the terrorist attacks in New York on 9/11.
"Back in October 2001, I had just moved to Jersey City, and, in fact, the wreckage of the World Trade Center was still smoldering," Young said. He was working at Jim Hanley's Universe and was taking the subway in and out of Manhattan every day. One day he saw a man with a silver briefcase at his feet.
"From there, things just kind of clicked," Young said. "I thought, 'What if he didn't know what was in that thing? What if he's a terrorist?' If everyone remembers, those were significantly different times, and the fear back then was a very deep kind of fear. The rainbow-coded National Threat Advisory System was going up every other day, people were waiting for a second shoe to drop. This ate at me on the subway or while I walked around the city. So I just figured, you know what, let's turn this aura of paranoia into a story that taps into that fear, and in some kind of way, makes it into a positive, entertaining comic book."
While it would be a few years before the invention of the iPhone and the eventual release of "The Carrier," this is not his comic book debut. "My first comic book was called 'the forgotten,' a four-issue Philadelphia-based mystery series I co-wrote and co-published with Jareth Grealish," Young said. "That came out in 2002, and just this summer the option was picked up by producers Don Murphy and Susan Montford of Angryfilms, and John Wells and Claire Polstein of John Wells Productions. Don is a producer behind 'Transformers,' 'From Hell' and 'League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,' and he and Susan played an extraordinary part in getting 'the forgotten' that option deal."
Comic book readers without an iPhone or iPod Touch may be asking: what about us? Although he didn't mention any firm plans, Young said porting it to another device or even to print wasn't out of the question.
"Well, the [theoretical] Apple tablet would of course be a great place for us to port this comic book next," Young said. "The digital extras are all optional and not necessary to the story, so we're not tied to just the iPhone and iPod Touch. That means we could certainly take this comic to print in the future, or to other digital devices as well."